Emily Malcolm, Curator of Transport & Technology for Glasgow Museums, has been visiting our searchroom over the past year to research our ship building collections. She has been working on a new catalogue of the Ship Model Collection (due to be published in 2013) and as there is very little published material on the manufacture and exhibition of ship models, most of the work has been with primary sources. The team working on the publication have been looking for information about the manufacture of the GM Collection ship models and how they were displayed in company offices and international exhibitions.
One particularly fascinating trail led from the Glasgow Museums stores at Nitshill to the Place du Trocadero in Paris and back to the Scottish Business Archive at Thurso Street – here’s the story:
Glasgow Museums has a beautiful model of PS Columba, built by J & G Thomson in 1878. On a visit to the Musee National de la Marine in Paris, Emily noticed an identical model on display in their galleries. She found out from Frederique Chapelay, Curator at the Musee de la Marine, that it had been purchased direct from J & G Thomson after the Paris “Exposition Universelle” in 1878. “The workmanship in these two models is absolutely suberb” says Emily “not one detail has been missed out – the models are complete with windowed saloons fitted with curtains, tables, chairs and carpets and on deck there are beautifully turned balustrades, the ships bells and over a dozen tiny benches, all constructed from wooden slats with carved ends. They really are works of art”.
The Scottish Business Archive here at the University of Glasgow Archives has been a great help to Emily and especially our Upper Clyde Shipbuilding records which have been able to prove just how special these models are – an entry in one of J&G Thomson’s cashbooks (UCS1/36/12) details payment of £500 from the French Government for two models. Emily says that she knew that model making was an expensive business “but this was quite a breathtaking sum – the amount paid for one of the models was equivalent to a year’s wage for a fairly well off working man. It’s hard to directly compare prices as wages have risen relatively to such a great extent over the years, but from what I can see this would equate to a cost of £20-25,000 today for a model like those of “Columba”.
J&G Thomson was an engine and boiler works established at Clydebank Foundry in 1847 before it became one of the early shipbuilding companies on the Clyde. The company was later taken over by John Brown & Co.: a Clydebank shipping and engineering establishment dating from 1899 that was responsible for building a vast number of ships on the Clyde and contributing greatly to Glasgow’s industrial past.
If you would like to find out more about the Columba model and Glasgow Museums’ ship model collection, or have any information about model building in Glasgow, please contact Emily Malcolm at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Good luck with the rest of your research Emily!
Categories: Archive Services (GUAS)